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Broncos Draft Preview: Linebackers

Everywhere former Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams would walk at Dove Valley, a Broncos PR crony would closely hover – looking scared half to death.

It makes you almost forget Williams, who recently signed with the Chicago Bears (where Broncos castaways go to die), was, at times, a talented, Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker.

Instead; most remember Williams, aka “Dyme Lyfe,” aka “bonehead,” for tweeting a picture of his playbook, for his two DUI citations and his failed NFL drug test, which included giving the league a sample of “non-human urine.”

So, even though Williams was liked around the locker room, including a strong friendship with cornerback Champ Bailey, the Broncos have ridded themselves of the image Williams created for himself.

Gone with the Windy City.

And now the remains of the Broncos’ linebacker corps looks like this: NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller, Mr. Nice Guy Wesley Woodyard, the hard-hitting-but-highly-critiqued middle linebacker Joe Mays, free-agent grab Stewart Bradley, unproven Steven Johnson, unknown Aaron Brewer, underachieving Nate Irving and NFL sophomore Danny Trevathan.

Come April 25, the Broncos will look linebacker, especially inside linebacker, early in the draft.

***

Manti Te’o
College: Notre Dame
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 241 pounds

For a team that has had to juggle the Tim Tebow circus and stomp out the media nightmares former coach Josh McDaniels brought to Denver, more than a handful of draft experts believe the good, bad and ugly of Manti Te’o will be packed into a Broncos uniform next season.

At first, Te’o was projected to be a top-10 pick. Then, Alabama’s offense made him look slow and uninterested.

After that, Te’o was a top-20 pick. But a fake girlfriend who had died turned into a Notre Dame scandal, which led to the questioning of his sexuality that was brought up on an exclusive interview with Katie Couric and now can all be summed up by the notion of “being catfished” has left the middle linebacker’s draft status as certain as your crumpled up bracket.

Still…

The good: On the field, yes, on the field, Te’o has great awareness. He was the leader of the 2012-13 Irish defense totaling 113 tackles, seven interception, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. The Heisman-candidate and All-America defender was a consistent playmaker and leader on the field.

The bad: He’s slow. At least he is according to his second 40-yard dash time, where he ran an unimpressive 4.71. And even though a lot of highly touted players don’t do well at the combine, Te’o will remain under a humungous microscope of scrutiny until draft day.

The ugly: His presence in a NFL locker room is a question mark. The 22-year-old linebacker lied somewhere along the line in this weird, soap-opera-written scandal, which is a check in the box next to “Character Issue” on NFL scouts’ notepads.

True, most humans lie. And yes, most are a part of embarrassing moments that they pray aren’t rolled out like sitcom pilot, but Te’o and his public life weren’t so lucky. Now, the biggest thing NFL executives and scouts are worried about is that the linebacker’s off-the-field life will carry over to game day, which some thought was the case when Te’o looked like he gave up in his final collegiate game in the BCS National Championship Game.

The risk and reward are high. And come draft day for the Broncos, it’s either aloha, or aloha, for Te’o.

***

Doug Rippy
College: Colorado
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 251 pounds

Doug Rippy needed a bounce-back year after knee surgery ended his junior year. But the dysfunctional Buffs (1-11) made that nearly impossible.

Before last season, experts thought he was a third-round pick. Today, Rippy greets you with a smile even though nothing went right for him in 2012.

In a year to forget, he was a revolving door from the sideline to the field. At the beginning of the season, he tried to play through a sore knee, but missed four straight weeks after the opening game loss to Colorado State. The highlights of the year was when he had a season-high seven tackles against USC, as well as six tackles and a forced fumble against Washington. The lowest point of the year was the day he heard the news that his longtime best friend, Damiko Russell, was killed in a drive-by shooting.

When healthy, Rippy is a solid linebacker with above-average speed and solid tackling mechanics. If not 100 percent, he’s a camp invitee, but no better.

The Broncos could start looking at Rippy come the sixth or seventh round at the earliest.

***

Kiko Alonso
College: Oregon
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 238 pounds

Alonso built quite a résumé on and off the field in Eugene. Off the field, the Ducks linebacker was arrested twice for alcohol-related incidents, and charged with burglary and trespassing. On the field, the senior led the fast-paced Oregon defense with 74 tackles and four interceptions.

Luckily, he stayed out of the news section and kept to the sports section in 2012.

The Broncos could grab Alonso in the second or third round.

***

Kevin Minter
College: LSU
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 246 pounds

Minter only became LSU’s full-time starter at linebacker in 2012. Now, he’s a late first-round or early second-round pick.

Last season, Minter had a team-high 130 tackles and four sacks.

The relatively undersized linebacker has a knack of showing up for big games, including when he had five tackles and a sack in the 2011-12 BCS National Championship Game and an LSU bowl game record of 19 tackles in last season’s Capital One Bowl.

***

Nico Johnson
College: Alabama
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 248 pounds

Johnson could drop to the Broncos in the fourth round due to a sports hernia surgery he had last month. He played in most of the Crimson Tide’s game last season despite the injury.

The third-year starter could be a steal if Johnson can return to form. Last season, he had 54 tackles and two forced fumbles. He’s solid in both run and pass defense when healthy. Not exceptional, but solid.

***

By going through film, background checks, medical reports and phone records the Broncos will find their next character at linebacker.


OTHER BRONCOS DRAFT PREVIEWS

Defensive Tackles (CLICK HERE)

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